The WTCA: Conducting Trade in a World of Digital Globalization

with Robin van Puyenbroeck

In this episode, Robin van Puyenbroeck, Executive Director-Business Development at the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA), and Mariette Mulaire, President and CEO of World Trade Center Winnipeg, join together with the Rady JCC and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg for a conversation on trade in the world of digital globalization. Mariette and Robin share ways that the WTCA can benefit companies — specifically with B2B interactions. Robin details how his team moved the WTCA General Assembly (GA) to a virtual event this year and highlights ways that they provided “matchmaking” opportunities for businesses that he believes will continue well into the future. The episode concludes with a discussion on supply issues and inflation.

Topics in this conversation include:

  • Mariette discusses the functions of World Trade Center Winnipeg, their history and the services that they provide to businesses as well as the importance of “Peace through Trade,” a key philosophy of the WTCA. 2:35
  • Robin discusses the diversity of the WTCA, specifically in regards to the function and diversity of licensee types that share in the WTCA’s mission of facilitating international trade. 6:30
  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the WTCA are often confused but vary greatly in purpose, funding and regulation. Robin takes time to explain these differences. 14:22
  • Robin details the ways that the WTCA made its virtual GA engaging and beneficial for businesses, specifically sharing the AI-powered matching technology used to successfully connect businesses with each other. 18:28
  • Mariette and Robin discuss the ways that technology could impact trade shows moving forward to allow businesses to make the most of their time and money while reaping better results. 25:11
  • Robin looks at some of the many causes for the supply chain disruptions being seen around the world and how businesses can take advantage of this opportunity to provide closer-to-home services and products. 42:32


Trade Wins is a podcast designed specifically to be thought-provoking and to provide insights from leading experts to help us navigate today’s changing environment. We aim to contribute to the empowerment of our global membership and their business networks in the world of global trade and investment.


Mariette Mulaire 2:35
Thanks so much, Delia, Sheldon and Sheila for having me again this year. Last year I was part of another virtual presentation and I am grateful that you think about us. Hopefully, we will be bringing some pertinent information today and some thoughts for you to run around your head after this. Merci beaucoup! Last year, I spoke to you more about who we are and what we do at the World Trade Center Winnipeg — the types of services, the programs we have. Some of our signature programs are the Business Planning Program and the Trade Accelerator Program. The Trade Accelerator Program is great for preparing companies to look at other markets. We had this stop with COVID where a lot of our businesses were rethinking where they were going to put their priorities, where they were going to get their clients, were the markets that they had chosen still valuable and pertinent for them. Those are the kinds of things that we are now working with companies on. A lot of companies are looking again at their trade accelerator program, at their export plan, at where they should be putting their energies. We know that companies that trade also create a lot of jobs. That is important. We’ll see how it all unfolds. We know that there is a different geopolitical reality before COVID and now even a little bit more. We know about supply chain disruptions. We hear all of that. However, we are still firm believers that we need trade. We need trade because we don’t grow and produce everything in all of our different countries. We know that when you trade with a country, you usually get along well with the country. That’s why when the World Trade Centers Association was put in place, it started with “peace through trade.” It was after the Second World War where it was really important that if we are going to deal with other countries to trade, we’re probably not going to want to be at war with them. It was a really good concept. Today the World Trade Centers Association represents over 300 World Trade Centers. That’s why Winnipeg bought the license in 2012 and started operating in 2013. Why? Because it immediately plugs us into a whole family internationally. I mentioned Scott Center here who is from Savannah. There are a whole bunch of little Scott Centers, well, there’s only one, but there are many different World Trade Centers with whom we can work. For businesses in Manitoba to know that we have access to that is important. When Delia approached me, I thought, oh jeez,, I’m going to bore them again with our stuff so maybe I should spin it around and talk more about what else is out there for Manitoba businesses because I’ve been through this last year with a lot of virtual sessions with the World Trade Center Association. I think there’s so much good stuff going on right now, especially since we have Robin who joined the team about a year and a half ago. He’s the Executive Director of Business Development at the World Trade Centers Association. The headquarters are in New York City and that’s where Robin is. And so, I thought this would be interesting for Robin to give us the perspective of WTCA. What’s in it for you as a Manitoba or Winnipeg business as it relates to this? I’m thinking we’ll start with Robin. I’ll ask him some questions and he can answer.
Robin Van Puyenbroeck 6:09
I’ll do my best!
Mariette Mulaire 6:11
I thought maybe we could just start, Robin, now that you’ve been around for about a year and a half now, as I mentioned. So you joined the WTCA, what things did you discover that you were pleasantly surprised about and what things did you say, “Oh, we should fix that. We should work on that to be a bit more accessible.”?
Robin van Puyenbroeck 6:30
We need more than one hour on this call. No, I’m joking. First of all, thank you. Again, I think this is a great conversation to have. To start with, when I joined, which was in June of last year, I joined in the midst of the pandemic. So, I’ve honestly been operating my entire tenure so far, basically, virtually. I did not meet my immediate team members until June of this year.That in itself is a reflection of how the world has changed.To look at joining a new organization where you work in a team environment, you work with colleagues around the world and you have never met in person. Yet, it is possible to create, to get things off the ground and to get people motivated without that physical interaction. Human beings are three-dimensional. Pre pandemic, it was unthinkable that this would even be possible. Now we are forced to do it and it works. Joining an organization virtually does not give you a full picture of who and what that organization is because an organization is, like what you have at the JCC and the Jewish Federation, it’s about people at the end of the day. People make an organization because people make a culture and it’s a culture that defines an organization. So, when you enter something virtually, whether this is a business relationship or business prospect or entering a new company from a working perspective, you’re still one step away from potentially the reality. What I discovered, to answer your question, Mariette, is that I think this is an incredibly diverse organization. This is the upside. This is an organization that is in almost 100 countries. There’s still a lot of misperception about what a World Trade Center is and what it stands for because they are so diverse. If you would ask Mariette to please define the World Trade Center is in Winnipeg and you would ask Scott Center here the same question, even though they are running some of the most active centers out there, you would still get a different answer. That is okay. That is one of the things that as a brand we need to be aware of. We’re not selling consumer products. We are not the Coca-Cola company. We do not want to create one product that is a good fit for all. The world doesn’t work like that. Diversity is something that exists, we need to recognize it, embrace it and treat it like a strength. When I say diversity, this is really about the kinds of organizations we have as members. It goes from the level of sophistication of how World Trade Centers operate, where you would have Mariette and Scott at the more sophisticated part of the spectrum because of how they integrate into the local society and fabric and the type of work they do. There are also less sophisticated World Trade Centers that have been around for 50 years and that had a very different starting point. The real diversity is in the kind of organization. We’re working with members or licensees. The World Trade Centers Association is a nonprofit, but global trade association. Our mandate is to facilitate international trade. The foundation of “Peace through Trade” that Mariette was referring to is incredibly important and more relevant today than ever. With that notion, the organization is also the licensor, the brand owner of the World Trade Center brand, which is a world-famous brand. In that spectrum, to give a couple of examples of diversity, are free-trade zones. There’s a World Trade Center in Montevideo, the entire downtown area, eight towers is a free trade zone and that is a World Trade Center. But then there’s also the Schiphol Airport Group in the Netherlands. This is an airport. They have multiple — Eindhoven, Berlin, Milano — these are all different airports but part of the same group and could not be more different than a free trade zone. Then there are also universities. In Monterey, for example, there is a university that is a World Trade Center. From my perspective, that makes total sense because that’s where young people are, that’s where talent is and that’s where things are being created from a startup and incubator perspective. It also goes to the completely other side of the spectrum again to, for example, conference and exhibition centers. Again, a conference and exhibition infrastructure couldn’t be more different from a free trade zone or university. Another example is Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas, the tourism and the Visitors Authority is our licensee. Everybody in the world knows Las Vegas. Then there’s, of course, the more traditional, commercial mixed real estate. We’re also talking about World Trade Centers that are strong with physical assets such as real estate, whether it’s in logistics or what have you. There are also World Trade Centers who do not necessarily focus on the real estate component as much, they’re housed and have facilities, but they’re focused on economic development, on attracting foreign direct investment. They’re there to facilitate that trade and to work on trade promotion, on trade facilitation. That is also what we want all our members to do, but the mindset and DNA of an organization that focuses on organizing trade delegations are very different from a traditional real estate developer. Over 50 years, the growth has created an incredibly diverse portfolio. Now it’s a rich thing that we have. The challenge is the question of how then do we make something work that works for everybody so that one plus one becomes three? My philosophy is always that insanity is doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results. So, how do we keep those 300 World Trade Centers engaged while continuing to focus on broadening the footprint so we don’t get more of the same coming in? I think even more diversity is a strength. That puts us in a very unique position. I would say that we’re the only organization out there at the global level that actually brings world trade centers — brings businesses — together at this scale, across industries with an equal representation all around the world. This is not a Canadian or American or North American organization, this is truly a global organization with the footprint equally spread. There’s a tremendous opportunity there especially because the core constituents of the World Trade Centers, I’m sure this is all of you on the call as well, are small and medium enterprises. We’re not here to facilitate on behalf of multinational corporations. They know what to do; they know their way around. Again, there’s no other organization out there in the world where people come together at this level in working groups, creating for each other. I’ll wrap it up on this question, Mariette, but the key is learning the ability to operate in an environment of trust. I think this is extremely important. Mariette will call Scott for anything in Savannah and any of you on the call who wants to work in Savannah will call Mariette who will call Scott in Savannah and there is this relationship of trust. In order to develop business, to find prospects, to find partners, everything starts and ends with trust. We all know this. We can write as many contracts as we want, but at the end of the day, relationships based on trust are what make things work.

Mariette Mulaire 13:50
Well said. That’s exactly the strength of the World Trade Centers Association. We can vet companies and we can really open doors because of those connections and that trust issue. Thank you very much, a very good overview of WTCA, the World Trade Centers Association. Sometimes people can mix up WTO, the World Trade Organization, with WTCA. Can you speak a little bit about that, Robin? What are the differences between those two organizations because you know them both well?

Robin van Puyenbroeck 14:22
Yes, very good question, Mariette. There’s a fundamental difference. The WTO, the World Trade Organization, is an international, intergovernmental organization. This is an organization created by treaty, by governments, that basically regulates and facilitates the rules of trade among countries. They create a trade infrastructure and then also work on the performance of those trade rules so that if there’s a breach, countries can go to an absolute body and say there’s a breach of trades, there is a monopoly being established, what have you and then there’s an appeal process to get a ruling to make sure the rules are being followed. It’s more of a regulatory type of infrastructure created by governments. There are a lot of issues when you put 163 countries together, which is the membership, I believe, of the WTO and they all have to agree. That’s the process among nations, just like the United Nations General Assembly or any other body where you put multiple governments in the room and have them try to agree and then, of course, live by what they agreed. This is fundamentally the opposite spectrum of who we are. We are a nonprofit organization. We are strictly apolitical. We definitely are not governmental. We don’t receive government funding. We are a membership-based organization. Every licensee of our association, all the World Trade Centers are also members of our association. Our mandate is to facilitate our members and more importantly, their constituents, their business partners, their tenants, to facilitate opportunities for them. This is a B2B type of context where the WTO is intergovernmental.

Mariette Mulaire 16:03
Yes, that’s a big difference. I love the way you explained it because we need the WTO but we need it for a different purpose. Winnipeg bought the license, we bought the license with the Winnipeg chamber and the NEM, which was a trade agency. Brian Sharfstein, who is on the call today, was instrumental in helping us get that license. He was a proponent of it, he understood the value of it, he understood what it could do for our city. Today, there are seven World Trade Centers in Canada. This is great and another network within our country that we can count on. The WTCA holds its annual general meeting every year. We usually try to go to different areas around the world. I was lucky enough to go to Algeria, to Russia, to the Netherlands, to Las Vegas. Mexico was the last one we had. We’re very lucky to be able to get together. That’s when the family gets together in those different regions. It’s the whole people to people that Robin spoke about. For 2020, we were supposed to be in Taipei, Taiwan. Taipei, Taiwan is 50 years old, we celebrated 50 years of the World Trade Center and Taipei is one of the first ones that joined 50 years ago. With COVID, we had to reschedule and we had to find a different way of doing it. Robin and the team at headquarters were tasked with how we could have an annual general meeting where people could connect and have different B2B opportunities. It was quite a challenge. It turned out to be a big success. Robin organized to have people presenting forums and then the B2B connections. Do you want to talk about the whole process, Robin, and what is in it for Manitoba businesses for the next time when there is another one like this? We saw that doing virtual first and then meeting later is a good formula. Do you want to talk about your experience and what you would do again and what you would do differently?

Robin van Puyenbroeck 18:28
Yes. There’s a lot to say about that question. How do you make a virtual event on the global scale engaging? We’re all probably doing way too many Zoom calls every day. How can you create a multi-day event where you literally have hundreds of people engaged and provide content as well. You have to completely rethink how this event is done conceptually. The good thing is that I was not part of the physical General Assembly the year before so my point of reference was starting from scratch. People can tend to try to recycle what was done before, and try to make it virtual and I don’t think that it works that way. In the world that we live in, this virtual component is very different. It’s not mutually exclusive from doing things in person, it’s just very different. What we tried to do was to first look at how we could keep people engaged. We didn’t want people in Zoom meetings for hours and hours and hours because people tune out and there’s so much else out there. We focused on that idea. We decided to do three days, limited to two and a half hours a day. Every session, and I was very strict on this, was no more than 30 minutes. I was like the police in there. When 30 minutes were up, they were up. We needed to be respectful of people and their time. There were no slide presentations; PowerPoint was not allowed. We brought in very high-caliber speakers who know what they’re talking about. We had CEOs, leaders in real estate, we had the senior leadership from the WTO come in, from the Asian Development Bank, the head of the private sector division, award-winning journalists came in to talk about more human interest stories. We found a good mix of programs, brought in high-caliber speakers and then gave them 10 minutes to speak. That’s it. Then there was a 10-minute dialogue and room for Q&A. Then you went to the next part. We kept the pace up so people stayed focused on the program. From a programmatic perspective, I think that was very interesting. The technology is now available. That’s the other thing that worked well. What we also did, and that’s what you’re really asking, is what’s in it for businesses because listening to another nice speaker talk about economic issues, there’s plenty of that out there already. We wanted to make sure we could help companies connect virtually. We have all gone to meetings, to conferences, handed out hundreds of business cards, done the follow-up, worked the room, we’ve all done that. It’s not always very effective. We also know that it’s not always fun, but sometimes it is. It takes a lot of time. How do you do this virtually? We wanted to make sure that we embraced technology. That was step number one. If we would have a Zoom meeting with 24 people on the call and no one would know each other and we would have to start networking, that in itself would be just nearly impossible. If everyone would have to speak for just one minute to introduce themselves, it just wouldn’t work. We said, let’s look for a platform where companies can create a profile of who they are, what they’re looking for, what they’re not looking for, basically, what they are looking for out there. We then have an algorithm trying to find matches so that nobody wastes time talking to people where it is not leading anywhere because time is one of the most valuable things that we all have, our health, of course, and then there’s time. We then said, let’s try to blow this up and scale this because it’s important we have a high level of participation. We allocated 15-minute time slots for each conversation. What we did was create this artificial intelligence-powered B2B matchmaking platform. I know a lot of companies from Manitoba and Winnipeg participated and that’s great. I’m counting on seeing all of you again now in just a few weeks. We had businesses create a profile and then the algorithm worked with what they put in the profile to see if there were matches out there. If there were matches, they were alerted of that match and then decided if this was an interesting person or entity for their business. They could click “No” and it would go away. If they clicked “yes,” they could set up a 15-minute appointment. We capped it on time. If we can’t explain ourselves in 15 minutes, then that is probably not a good thing. If things worked out in 15 minutes, they shared information to follow up for more meetings. That’s what we did. We ended up having over 1,000 companies registered. This was a trial, a total test. We had no idea exactly how this was going to pan out. Clearly, there is a need, there is a demand for people to find others out there and try to do this effectively. Last year, we couldn’t travel. Now we can travel, but we’re rethinking things. In my previous life, I would fly across the pond to take a breakfast meeting and fly back the same day. It is unthinkable to do this now. I wouldn’t even want to consider doing it now because the technology is so efficient and the time is used so much more efficiently. That is in there for businesses that we can offer a platform, we can offer a global community. Mariette was a big proponent of doing this and put a lot of effort into bringing companies to the platform. I was, of course, very pleased to hear that for many companies this was a very good use of their time and very successful and that we should also make this available on a more permanent basis. In Manitoba, in Winnipeg, if you want to organize a B2B matchmaking session for Canadian companies, specifically focusing on a particular sector, let’s say with India, I’m just making this up as an example, you just narrowed down, of course, the focus and then the platform gets activated for companies to focus on this particular sector finding partners in India. If things don’t work out and there are no good connections, there’s nothing lost. At worst, there is the half-hour or hour that people spent going through certain profiles. Again, the algorithm will present you the profiles that the algorithm thinks are a match. You have that inherent efficiency right there. That is something that came out well from the General Assembly that is also the future. Technology is here to stay. I like to talk about the digital globalization that we’re in. This was bound to happen but the pandemic propelled us into that many years before this was otherwise going to happen organically.

Mariette Mulaire 25:11
This is great because it goes into the last question I had. We kind of touched on it. I see some of the chat about how people can have access to the platform, Robin. For the Manitoba people here, Winnipegers mostly, I guess, you might remember Centralia. It was B2B; it was speed dating for businesses. I see some reference to that there — swipe right, swipe left. It was exactly that kind of thing where you put in your profile, and then you would do it. The first time we brought it to Western Canada was in 2010. I was pointing out Brian earlier because he was involved as the chair of Winnipeg Chamber then. It was about inviting the world to come to Winnipeg to do business. That’s what it was all about. It was also our Manitoba Homecoming year so we wanted to have something economic to add to the cultural events that were being organized. This was an initial try. After that, we would see that when businesses would go to a trade show, they would invest $5000 to $10,000 Canadian. When you go to a trade show, it’s hit and miss. You go to somebody’s booth and start talking and then you find out, “Oh no, how do I get out of this situation?” You don’t have that 15-minute timer. The old way of doing things, I can’t see it continuing because you invest first, you take a risk on who you are going to meet and you wonder if there is going to be a match. It goes back to the trust issue that Robin related to. The future for us and what we’re looking at is definitely what Robin and his team put forth during the annual general meeting. The next one that he’s talking about is the member seminar. That is another occasion for businesses to have access to the platform. I’ll let Robin speak more about that. I can see how things will change from going to trade shows, putting a whole bunch of investment of time and money and taking a risk. Why not first have meetings organized, you pick and then if it makes sense for the business, go and meet in person or go to see the environment in which the company works to get a much better feeling and the whole people energy. Eventually, we need that. We’re still human beings. Robin, you touched on it a lot, but if you want to add on that the component of how things will change as far as how we did trade missions and maybe trade shows and these connections internationally and then we can take questions. There are some fun ones in there that I’d like you to touch on.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 27:54
I see questions about shoes on the chat.

Mariette Mulaire 27:58
That’s Brian Scharfstein; that’s his business.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 28:01
Yes. Things have changed, that’s for sure. As an organization, we also have to constantly reinvent ourselves. Any company, whether for-profit or nonprofit, I believe either you will become a disrupter or you will be disrupted. This is about risk/reward. As an organization, you want to take a chance to change how you do things. Are you taking a risk not going to trade shows and not spending $20,000 going and all that? It is also for us as an organization. This virtual works. However, I do not think that it is mutually exclusive. It is not because the virtual works that in-person events don’t work anymore. We just have to find a better balance that is good for so many reasons. One of the things that we’ve been working on is setting us up so that we can do what I call hybrid events. Hybrid can mean so many different things. This is with this platform. You’re all invited on November 15-17. It’s open for a two weeks time frame for B2B virtually. The platform that we’re using is set up to plug that into an in-person event so that you have seamless integration and a seamless experience, whether you’re somewhere in person or remotely. This platform, it’s the same basis as we did during the GA. You create a platform, an algorithm finds you matches and it may work or not work. There are never any guarantees. Similarly, if you go to a trade show, there are no guarantees. You at least manage your time more effectively. Going forward in the future, because I think trade shows are extremely important to people, you still want to see products. You still want to meet people. How can you be more effective when you go to a trade show? Perhaps when trade shows are organized, first there is a virtual component where you look at the 2,000 participants in a trade show. Where do you start? You don’t have the time to go through 2,000 names and organizations and then click and find out what they do. Nobody has time to do that. If they have an algorithm that says, well, of these 2,000 here are 12 that pop up based on your own profile as a good match for what you’re looking for. You can then spend time with those 12 and see if they make sense and you spend 15 minutes with each. Then you figure out well, 5 of them we had a great conversation. By the time that you go to the trade show, you have 5 people to meet and it’s effective. That combination, that integration of virtual and in-person, that once the in-person component opens up, again, the trade shows, I think to be successful will have to integrate that virtual component. We have a big role to play in that with our own events, as well. That is where I see the future going. Some will embrace that and some won’t. There’s no going back from the efficiencies that technology has brought us because of the pandemic. It’s here to stay.

Mariette Mulaire 31:12
Thank you. I’m seeing some of the questions. I’m looking at Sheila and Delia to see how you’d like us to proceed on that. If you want to ask these questions now or if you want to touch on the comments that were also made in the chat. What is your preference, Sheila and Delia?

Sheila 31:36
Thank you so much to the speakers for sharing such amazing experiences that you have had; we can learn a lot. I am not sure if somebody in the audience would like to ask questions. We can start with the questions of the participants and then go back to the chat. Would anybody like to ask the presenters a question? Borris.

Borris 32:03
Thank you so much for the great information and the presentations. Quick question. In the organization, how many people do you have right now in Winnipeg?

Mariette Mulaire 32:14
We have 16 staff in Winnipeg,

Borris 32:16
I mean, the companies that acquire that?

Mariette Mulaire 32:22
We’re a little bit different, Borris. We’re not like the Winnipeg Chamber that has members. We serve all the members of any chamber. We serve every Manitoban who wants to either start, grow or expand their business into another market. We do the business plan for some that are not yet ready for outside the borders of our province. We also do the export plans. Those services are basically free because we get the funding from the province to be able to provide that kind of service to our companies. If you want to chat more on that, Borris, we can easily connect you with the right person here.

Borris 33:02
Thank you. To follow up on that, the way it works, let’s say you have a product you want to sell to the world. As an organization, what do you require? Do you require us to have any good track record here in Winnipeg? What is the requirement to get us into the program?

Mariette Mulaire 33:23
When we organize, especially the export plan, the Trade Accelerator Program is what we call it, we work with experts. We work with finance experts and experts in supply chain, in legal issues in certain countries, with human resources to really help the business person look at all the dimensions of the business to make sure that they’re ready. Once that is done, then the next step is, if you say, well, you know what, I’m very interested in, let’s say Argentina. There’s a connection there, but I’ve lost my business connections there or something like that. Or, is there a World Trade Center there? We work with those World Trade Centers. If there’s a place where there is no World Trade Center, we’ll work with Global Affairs Canada. They have offices in different parts of the world. We’re not in the same parts, necessarily, so that’s a bonus or we’ll find a trade promotion organization. Ideally, for us as a World Trade Center Association, our goal is to be present in every country. Right now we’re present in 90. That would be the next step for us, Borris, once the business person has a good sense of where they want to go. Sometimes they’re not sure. We have a big research service that we do where we can identify how the product will do in what market, what’s the potential there. We have a lot of research potential that is the starting point sometimes. Maybe a company will say, “You know what, I don’t think that choice of market is going to work for me, but maybe this other one.” This is where we can provide a lot. Information is king so that’s what we try to provide right from the start to help. Then it’s the actual services that are very concrete with what the business is looking for.

Borris 35:11
Great. Thank you so much.

Unknown Speaker 35:13
Thanks. We have two more questions. Daniel.

Daniel 35:17
Thank you for the great presentation and for the opportunity to learn about this available platform. This pandemic looks like it is here to stay for a while more and we are all used to working from the comfort of our homes. Moreover, the entities realize the reduction in their running costs. This online platform goes out to people who are experienced and know what they are looking for, like in the trade shows. However, do you experience the same care for the startups that do not have any experience and don’t know what they have to know for interaction? Similarly, you can do great work with online learning, but it’s very challenging for grades 1 and 2 who do not have any experience to give to the online platform. What was your experience with the startups? Thank you.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 36:06
Yes, thank you, Dan. Very good question. That’s the beauty of a platform like this. Whoever is searching doesn’t have to be specific. You don’t have to look at a very specific product with an incoterm in a specific market. There’s also an opportunity to present an idea or a company. Your interest is to meet new people, to network, that’s one of the options. Based on that, the algorithm can then also present you potential people to just meet and then you reach out and there has to be, of course, a match. It gives you the opportunity as well to say, I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for but I’m interested in these angles and these areas. I find a lot within our network is that people are very open to business, to talk and to also meet new people. They may say, “I don’t know any companies in Winnipeg and this is interesting. I have 15 minutes to book this slot and to meet a new person.” Again, it goes both ways. The investment of time is very effective. If you meet on a trade show and you go for dinner or coffee, time flies. This is very effective. You can figure out pretty quickly on both sides whether you have a match and you have something there, some synergy, some energy and you want to take that conversation further. You can. By all means, don’t shy away from it. If you think, I don’t know exactly what my business proposition here is or my product or my end market, don’t be afraid of that. Throw yourself in there and then see what comes back.

Sheila 37:37
Thank you. There’s another question from Julianne.

Julianne 37:41
Hi, thank you. Thank you so much for the presentation. I appreciate connecting with you guys and having this opportunity. I used to work at Edmonton Economic Development in the World Trade Center there. I’ve recently moved home to rural Manitoba and realize the very different support. Finding that you guys are doing this still, the top program and everything like that, that’s wonderful. Robin, you had mentioned that you have this very diverse portfolio, the way that you have your locations in universities and airports and things and that you were thinking even now to expand further and be more diverse. Can you explain a little bit more about what ways? Do you have a plan for how you’re looking to expand?

Robin van Puyenbroeck 38:30
Yes, absolutely. With broadening our footprint further, historically, and I think Mariette here would be more knowledgeable to answer the history, but the World Trade Centers around the world were either very much concentrated around traditional commercial real estate or economic development because they were owned by a government or PPP. There was very little interaction between the real estate players, let’s say, and the trade players. Those were the two pillars. Trade is about moving people and about moving goods. If you don’t throw in free trade zones, airports, logistical hubs, universities and what have you, all of a sudden, that becomes a very different mix. From a strategy perspective, our focus is very much to also scout and look for those new prospects so that we’re not strictly looking at commercial real estate developers or economic development agencies. We’re looking at all the above that I just mentioned. It’s a matter of refocusing and reprioritizing. Where do we want to find and search for those new members? Also with the understanding that when members do come on board, they have to make a commitment to trade services. This is not strictly a real estate play. We want people to also give to the network — to take and to give. It’s a two-way street. Now it’s a requirement and we’re on top of that, if someone requests to become a licensee, there’s a whole procedure and we do a lot of due diligence there on the business planning and what have you, but trade services and the ability, the commitments to be responsive to the network, let me put it this way, that’s an important one. It is very important. You can imagine if you would call another World Trade Center that’s in the trade services, they will pick up the phone and try to help you. But if you call, let’s be honest, there are still members out there who are just so focused on real estate that they’re not interested in interacting with others in the network because, for them, it’s a real estate play. We have to be mindful of that as well. These are still members in very good standing. From a growth perspective, we need to make sure that the ones that come on board are willing and able to commit to being responsive to the network.

Mariette Mulaire 40:38
I’m going to add to that. For example, I was in the World Trade Center Seoul in South Korea and they are a real estate play. They have a hotel, they have accommodations, they have commercial space on the main floor, they are a real commercial complex real estate play. They don’t provide trade services. But, when you phone there, they systematically connect you with their trade organization there. It is seamless and that’s okay. As long as they can provide a service, as long as they can say, this is where you can go it is ok. World Trade Center Saskatoon is the latest Canadian member. There’s already an organization called STEP which is Saskatchewan Trade and Export Promotion. So the World Trade Center Saskatoon is counting on STEP to provide the trade services. There are those kinds of deals too that work well when it’s well connected and well organized so that it’s seamless for the businesses in that area.

Sheila 41:41
Thank you. Another question. Brielle.

Brielle 41:46
Yes, thank you. One thing that you mentioned because of COVID was a lot about supply chain. Are you seeing a lot of changes regarding supply chain, people looking for a shorter supply chain instead of just in time, looking for a little more of all times just in case? This is a great opportunity for people in Manitoba. It’s not only new markets, it’s rebuilding relationships, getting people closer, competing not so much on price, but quality and the assurance that we are going to deliver because we just ship it with Amazon.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 42:32
Yes, I think that the supply chain issues we’re seeing now around the world are going to be around for another year, a year and a half. There is a gigantic backlog from shipping to factories. Mind you, duties also play a role in all of this. This is not a quick fix. It’s like a factory — if you have a running factory and you switch it off, you can’t just switch it back on the next day and be caught up. It doesn’t work that way. Outside of the port of LA, there were $50 billion of containers just floating on the water for God knows how long. It’s a labor issue. There are huge issues with supply chain. This whole notion of just in time delivery and outsourcing to all over the world has proven that it doesn’t always work. It’s a quality issue as well because you don’t control your quality down your supply chain if you don’t control your supply chain. To react to your question, is there an opportunity to source more locally and closer to the home markets? I would say that there’s an opportunity for smaller companies, smaller organizations away from the big multinationals to also go back into plain manufacturing. Products still need to be made. We all like to talk about e-commerce, but someone needs to make the product. Someone needs to ship the products and parts need to be shipped around and parts need to be made. This is a question when I mentioned labor, this is about how much we pay people. Do we pay people adequately around the world? It is also about training. That’s one of the big questions that we’re going to see specifically in the North American context. Are people still trained and educated to take on those jobs? In my previous job, we moved facilities to Mexico and Honduras in particular. Cost was, of course, a factor but one of the main reasons was the lack of skilled labor. How do you fix that? This is also not something you fix tomorrow. People don’t get trained overnight. This is a question where, as a business community, you can work with the government to say, these are the jobs that we need, but we don’t have the skill sets around, so how can we train people so that 6/12/18 months from now we have people who can take these jobs? We have already seen a lot of shifts in supply chains, for example, away from China into the Philippines, into Vietnam, which was done to avoid the whole range of issues to do with terrorism and what have you, but also because China became too expensive. Companies do still look for the cheapest possible option, but then the cheaper things go, the more issues pop up. Another topic that I’m sure Mariette has a lot to say about is inflation. Prices have been going up not because there’s insourcing, but for a host of other reasons. When you do insourcing and start to produce more locally, that will have an impact on prices. Then the question is, are consumers willing to pay more for quicker access to products? Sometimes people need to wait six months for a piece of furniture to arrive. Are you willing to pay more for a piece of furniture made locally or closer by which will have an impact on the development of prices and on inflation? It’s a very complex problem. The world has never seen this before in recent history. There are multiple trading blocs now. It’s not just the United States as a powerhouse, there is still Europe as a powerhouse economically and there’s China and the periphery around China. That’s a very good topic. I can keep going about this for much longer, but I think my short answer to you is, I do think supply chains are going to be a major issue for at least another year and a half. Companies have an opportunity to look at more close-to-home sources. There are opportunities economically and from a job creation perspective.

Mariette Mulaire 46:35
If I can add to that, that was a great question. Yes, we’re concerned with that. When you talk about “just in case” as opposed to “just in time,” that’s exactly right. I love that. It is how people have to look at things. You might want to take note that we’re having a free webinar on December 7 on supply chain disruption. As you know, we do research, we do webinars and we do business plans and expert plans. It’s part of the services that we provide to all Manitoba companies that are interested. Check it out. You might think it’s interesting. It will be on the 7th of December.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 47:17
I saw questions in the chat regarding our upcoming member forum for the B2B matchmaking so I put the web link in the chat. Of course, you can always reach out to me personally or to Mariette. This is complimentary for our members and business partners of our members.

Shelia 47:34
Thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure learning from you, Mariette, and it was a pleasure to learn from you, Robin. It’s this new world that gives us the opportunity. Robin, you are in New York. Scott, where are you, I don’t remember the name?

Scott Center 47:50
I’m in Savannah, Georgia.

Shelia 47:51
Savannah Georgia,this is so amazing. We’re here in Winnipeg and we are going to share this session with all the members of the Jewish Business Network. We’re also going to share the information that you put in the chat. We look forward to having you again in a year or maybe before. Thank you again and thank you to all the participants who joined. We will get back to you with a new session for the Jewish Business Network. Let’s keep in touch.

Mariette Mulaire 48:27
Congratulations to the Rady Center. You are always doing such excellent work and have a big, positive impact on our community as a whole. Merci beaucoup, Delia and Sheila and also I think Sheldon is the guy who is behind the scenes who we don’t see who is important, keeping everything intact. Thank you very much, merci d’avoir participé aujourd’hui. Scott, thank you so much.

Robin van Puyenbroeck 48:53
As you said, this is such an easy opportunity to meet all of you in Winnipeg, travel not required. It’s still not the real thing, but I’m very happy to have had a chance to meet you all. Thank you again and hopefully at some point in time I will meet you also in person. I look forward to seeing all of you at our B2B event in two weeks.